Dragons greats have condemned the prospect of St George Illawarra swooping on former coach Wayne Bennett if he were to become a free agent next season.
Bennett’s immediate coaching future remained clouded last night after it was revealed the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) had applied for some of owner Nathan Tinkler’s assets – including the Newcastle Knights – to be wound up over unpaid debts.
The Knights are 99 per cent owned by the billionaire mining magnate Tinkler (the other 1per cent is member-owned), meaning there is the potential for Bennett to be without a job in 2013.
But former Dragons players Rod Wishart and Brad Mackay have urged the club to stand by current head coach Steve Price next season, even if Bennett were to enter the market.
‘‘You’ve got to give a bloke a go; Steve’s paid his dues and he deserves every opportunity,’’ Wishart said.
‘‘This year, you would like to think they’d be up the ladder a bit more and I know people are saying 2013 could be a lean year, but you’ve got to give the guy a go.
‘‘At times when it’s backs against the wall, that’s when you see the best of people. I’d like to see how Pricey and the team performs – it is a two-way street after all.’’
The ATO yesterday moved to wind up Tinkler’s troubled Hunter Sports Group, the parent company of the Jets and Newcastle Knights, over unpaid debts of $2.7million.
The ATO filed documents in the Federal Court showing Newcastle Jets Football Operations Pty Ltd owes $1.063million, while Newcastle Knights Pty Ltd is due to repay $1.424million.
Bennett was surprised to hear the news when contacted by Fairfax and said he knew nothing about the situation. The seven-time premiership winner said he could not make a comment on the matter until he had it confirmed by the club.
Knights chief executive Matthew Gidley moved to alleviate concerns yesterday.
‘‘I’ve been advised that the outstanding payment to the ATO will be paid shortly and that the issue will be resolved,’’ Gidley said.
‘‘The No1 priority at the moment is to support our football team and not let this affect the great work our coaching staff and players are doing currently.
"For now, it's business as usual for us at the Knights."
Bennett orchestrated the Dragons' breakthrough premiership in 2010 before moving to the Knights at the end of the 2011 season.
MacKay said Bennett's feats were grounds for the Dragons to consider welcoming him back into the coaching fold - possibly as a consultant - but full consideration should be given to Price.
"It's a hard one. Obviously Wayne Bennett brings success and that's what it's about but for Steve Price it would be a shame," MacKay said.
"You would give Wayne another shot but you don't want to take away what Steve Price has done and what he has the possibility to do."
Meanwhile, the Dragons are rumoured to be tabling a $1 million offer for Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy for the 2014 season and beyond, but nothing has been confirmed.